Quick, look around you.
Notice the lights that are on. Look at the tiny blips of red or green on the cable box or the cell phone charger or the plugged-in laptop. Listen to the hum of a heater or air conditioner. Notice how you’re surrounded by items using electricity.
Now think about everyone you know who’s also surrounded by the same items and all the people you don’t know who are surrounded by those same items. Think about how Greater Cincinnati garners its electricity from carbon-based fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Then consider how much must be burned to keep up with all of us every day.
In 2008, the Brookings Institute research firm released a study that measured the “carbon footprint” — the measure of the greenhouse gases and fossil fuels produced or burned by daily activities — of our nation’s cities, and Cincinnati was revealed to have the third highest per capita in the country. It came as little surprise, given the fact that this region relies heavily on coal and natural gas to generate its energy.
Since we’re likely to continue using fossil fuels in the future, it’s important to look for ways reduce our energy consumption and move toward a greener, more sustainable Cincinnati.
Even as the Brookings Institute was calculating its data, city planners were already springing into action. The result was the Green Cincinnati Plan, a call to action begun in 2007 that teamed environmentally-active minds from the Sierra Club with Duke Energy executives to create a 200plus-page document outlining what locals could do to reduce our massive carbon footprint. Nearly 100 recommendations were offered for citizens to participate in the massive endeavor.
“There are so many things we’ve discovered that we as individuals can do to see significant reduction in energy usage by making simple lifestyle changes,” says Ginnell Schiller, a climate protection coordinator for the City of Cincinnati. “It’s these small changes which can begin to make an impact on a community level.”
A helpful place to begin is to calculate your personal carbon footprint. The Environmental Protection Agency offers one of the many online sites that make it easy to determine a total of household and lifestyle carbon emissions through an online carbon footprint calculator (see www.epa.gov).
Step two? Implement the necessary changes. Programmable thermostats help to regulate usage of energy when you’re away from the house. Using cold water to wash clothes reduces the energy spent heating hot water. Allowing dishes to air-dry rather than heat-dry saves another cycle of energy use for your dishwasher.
And though hybrid automobiles might still be out of reach financially for many, subtle changes in driving behavior (dubbed “eco-driving”) can help reduce the carbon dioxide of non-hybrid vehicles. Avoid idling and unnecessary starts and stops, for instance, and use the air conditioner only at higher speeds.
Need more encouragement? A massive undertaking has begun citywide to reduce Cincinnati’s carbon footprint through the formation of the Green Partnership for Greater Cincinnati, which pairs city offices with the University of Cincinnati, Hamilton County government, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and Duke Energy. The partnership, designed to allow more open lines of communication on green issues throughout the various institutions, also works to raise awareness.
In one example of cooperation, UC currently trains its architectural engineering students to perform energy audits. An audit of Rockdale Elementary School in Avondale saved CPS $45,000 by suggesting changes that cost nothing, helping to increase the school’s overall budget.
“All five partners in the Green Partnership operate on the premise that to promote green issues they should be green themselves,” says Eric Gruenstein, a UC professor and the partnership’s coordinator. “How much difference can this team make globally? It may be trivial. But it’s what we can do here in this city, in this community, that can make a massive difference.”
One of the best ways to begin taking your personal conservation efforts to a larger scale, Gruenstein says, might lie in forming partnerships in one’s own neighborhood or community.
“Compare yourself to those around you,” he says. “See how you stand up and encourage them to take on their own efforts.”
City government is also in talks to create a Cincinnati Energy Alliance to work with citizens to make homes more energy efficient. The alliance might help offset the costs that come with the greening of a household.
“We want to make it as easy as we can to help people put simple solutions in place to help correct these problems,” Schiller says.
“I see things in Cincinnati changing dramatically, but we all have to become more knowledgeable,” Gruenstein says. “The effects of climate change are both enormous and exceedingly unpleasant. There may be things we can no longer reverse, but there’s still so much we can do.”
The City of Cincinnati’s GREEN CINCINNATI PLAN is available at www.cincinnati-oh.gov.
Check out CityBeat's GREEN ISSUE PODCAST here for an interview with Mike Reynolds, a UC architecture grad whose Greater World Community in New Mexico features more than 60 homes built from waste materials, and Jim and Eileen Schenk of Imago in Price Hill.